Image Credit to Chris Thompson.

NAME: DESI STOYANOVA

YEARS LIFEGUARDING: 18

LOCATION(S): MIAMI/HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA

My name is Desi Stoyanova. I was born on March 15,1977 in Bulgaria. I was regular kid who started swimming at the age of 6 all the way to my college years. At age 13 I moved to the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia which is an hour from my city to be part of the biggest at the time swim team. I lived in a dorm with other athletes. As one can imagine, swimming team gave me lots of strength, structure, and most importantly thought me to never give up. Little I knew, that would play a role later in my life. I loved swimming, therefore I wanted to become a coach.

After high school, I entered the Sports Academy and graduated with MA in coaching but life in Bulgaria was very difficult at that time and so, when I was 23 I decided to make major change in my life and left to Germany. There, I lived with a wonderful family and learned the language. It was my first experience of how real life works and by far one of the best times in my life. While in Germany , I received a letter from the US government notifying me that I have won green card from the lottery and the necessary proceeding I had to do if I wish to pursue it. I did some thinking and because the year in Germany was coming to an end, I decided to go ahead and see what the Sates had to offer.

Image Credit to Alex Montero.

I immigrated to the States alone on September 6th, 2001 with $500 cash, not knowing the language. What was I thinking! Well, I guess at 24 I was fearless. I first arrived in Chicago where I had friends to stay with. While I was waiting for my work permit which took about a month, I decided to visit a guy in Miami who today is my husband. So , out of the $500 cash I had I spent $180 for plane ticket. My interest wasn’t only the boy I liked a lot but the palm trees as well. I’ve never had seen palm trees before. Beaches were not even on my mind. I spent a week in Hollywood/ Miami area and loved it, but had to go back to Chicago. I was working 3 jobs from dusk to dawn , not making any progress with the language or anything surrounding me. So, my then boyfriend/ now my husband told me that he saw an add in the newspaper ( we looked for jobs in the newspaper back then) for beach lifeguards.

I found out that the test in Hollywood, FL is run- swim and I packed my bags and drove from Chicago to Miami in a very old Toyota Corolla. Took the test in January of 2002 and got hired in February. •It’s pretty honest and safe to say that I became lifeguard out of necessity for a job. I stayed with Hollywood Beach Patrol for 3 years during which time I also got EMT certified. I’m very thankful to all Hollywood guards and supervisors who at the time nurtured me and gave me the time to adapt to new life, new language, new beginning. While I was a guard in Hollywood, I also became USLA member and started competing. My first Nationals was in San Diego and boy was I hooked to the sport!

I very quickly developed the 6th sense for guarding and everyone around me was telling me to try out for Miami Beach. I thought I’m not good enough for such a jump- I filled out the application the last day possible. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Since 2004 I have been a member of Miami Beach Ocean Rescue and it has been a pleasant ride so far. Miami Beach gave me another prospective of lifeguarding. Everything in MB is more- more people, more rescues, more medicals, more craziness. Truly, an ultimate desire to guard. I became more confident and better Ocean woman. I was fully emerging in the profession and developed passions for it.

Once you have it, you can’t stop. You see the stretch from the minimal to the greater good and that has driven me to do better. I’ve always had big interest in learning, so I used to ask my supervisors question about rescues and medical scenarios, about their experience and how they resolved problems. I guess, I was always interested in the “It” rather than just in a single situation. I realized that with my skills I can do more, much more than just having a good day on the beach. I realized that 15 years of swimming wasn’t a lost time, rather a strong base for now foreseeable career. And so it began, I didn’t want to have any other job but being an Ocean Lifeguard.

Lt Promotion Image.

Image Credit to Candi LaCasse.

Fast forwarding through the first couple of years- In 2006, just 4 months shy of my 30th Birthday , I became a mother to a wonderful boy who we named Alexander. Life became more challenging ,but better. Motherhood made me better lifeguard. How so? There was this new world before me- new understandings, new challenges, a mother always looks at the world different than anyone else. It thought me to be an example, to lead, to love more, to share my time, to be patient, more caring. I incorporated all of that into my skills on the beach and I started seeing positive results. With the time, I wanted to contribute to Ocean Rescue in a different way. I have gathered considerable amount of time and skills as a lifeguard and in 2014 I was promoted to a supervisor after taking promotional exam. I entered new field- managing employees. There are plenty of challenges to that but my passion was still on.

I was happy to give my knowledge and experience to the lifeguards as it was once given to me. After only 3 years, in 2017, I had an opportunity for another promotion. Again, after an exam I was promoted to a Lieutenant. More employees to manage. More responsibilities . I quickly adapted to the position and wanted to make a difference. It’s tough to be the person between the Boss and the employees. It’s tough to be the only woman at this position but I’m very fortunate to have colleagues who see me as a leader, who trust me and respect me, and who know that I will always have their back. I thought , I must have done something right.

In the midst of my live in Miami- new job, new language, unknown places, discovering reality, becoming a mother, becoming true ocean lover, I also managed to compete and win big and small in all events there are in Lifesaving. I also birthed our Jr. Lifeguard program which runs with success for 4 years now. I have been nominated for lifeguard of the year for SE USLA region. I have been nominated as one of the Heroes of the year- appreciation recognition which City of Miami Beach has annually.

My first jobs in the US was parking cars, delivering pizza, and may be my ticket out – Red Cross YMCA certified lifeguard. Here we are today, in 2020 as Lieutenant in one of the biggest Beach Patrols in the country who manages 12-15 employees and oversees emergencies for 2,000-4,000 beach patrons daily. Have I captured captured the”It”? I don’t know- I have 10 more years to retirement, there is still time to learn and grow.

Advice to other women looking to become lifeguards: Learn and never stop learning . Be strong and grow stronger. Lead by example and uphold the professionalism in lifeguarding . Our profession was born out of passion and is based on camaraderie. The key to keep the passion is to foster the individual in you; find a hobby and practice is as often as you can.

Stand out experiences: many years ago I remember 2 children getting into deep water, couldn’t find their ground anymore. I waited a second to see if they will tip toed but they couldn’t. From the time I saw them to the time I jumped to save them which was may be 20-30 seconds , those children never made a sound and there were about to go down. When they heard my voice they grabbed me with their eyes still closed. I then learned that children have unique response for survival. This experience has helped me to deal with parents who leave their children unattended on the beach.

Another stand out experience I had was recently when I was part of the Hero of the Year recognition which City of Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce holds annually. I was nominated by our Chief after multiple victim rescue situation after hours we had to which I was the IC ( incident commander ). All 7 victims were accounted for. During the ceremony, everything was going smooth until I knew that our stories are read in a room full of 300 people. We were 10 Heroes-each and one of us walked up on the stage to be congratulated and recognized during which those 300 people stared at you. I was trying to smile and look at different directions but when I heard the applause in the end, the shyness was forgotten. It was pretty good feeling.

Image Credit to Chris Thompson.

Images Provided by Desi Stoyanova.